Archive for Native Michigan Plants

March is the Time for Making Maple Syrup

Posted in Dining with Pat, I Wish I'd Thought About That, Lifestyle, Worth Repeating with tags , , , , on March 12, 2014 by Pat Hansen

Making maple syrup is a traditional right of spring, signaling the end of winter. Several species of maple trees grow in Michigan. Although all produce sap suitable for the production of maple syrup; two species, sugar maple and black maple are the source of sap for most commercial maple syrup production. Sap suitable for conversion into syrup may also be obtained from red and silver maples, although such sap usually has a lower sugar content.

**NOTE: The E. L. Johnson Nature Center in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
is hosting “A Day in the Sugarbush Maple Tapping
this Saturday, March 15, 2014.
Details are noted at the end of this article**

Necessary Equipment

Collection-PailMaple syrup can be produced with a minimum of equipment, but a few standard items increase the efficiency of the operation and the quality of the product, including:

  1. A drill with a 7/16 or 1/2 inch bit for drilling tap-holes in trees.
  2. A metal or plastic collection spout for each tap-hole.
  3. A collection container (bucket or plastic bag) or tubing line for each tap-hole.
  4. A large pan and a heat source for boiling down the sap. The size needed will depend on how much sap you intend to handle.
  5. A large-scale thermometer, calibrated at least 15 degrees above the boiling point of water.
  6. Wool, Orlon or other filters for filtering finished syrup while hot.
  7. Storage containers for the finished syrup.

Tapping the Tree

TapTo obtain the earliest runs of sap, tapping should be completed by the first week in March in Michigan. Minimal trunk diameter for trees suitable for tapping is 10 inches at 4 feet above the ground.

To tap a tree, select a spot on the trunk of the tree 2-4 feet above the ground in an area that appears to contain sound wood. At this point, drill a hole approximately 2-2.5 inches deep into the wood. Then insert a collection spout and tap lightly into the tree and attach a bucket or plastic bag or a tubing line to the spout. Open buckets used for sap collection should be covered to keep out rainwater, debris, insects and other foreign materials.

Collecting the Sap

Collecting-SapSap flow in maple trees will not occur every day throughout the tapping season. It occurs when a rapid warming trend in early morning follows a cool (below freezing) night.

To collect the sap from the tree, simply hang a bucket on the tap and watch the first few drips fall into the bucket. This should happen quickly, though there will be little drips that won’t amount to much at first. Place a lid over the bucket and let the sap continue to drip.

After a day or two, you can check to see just how far your sap collection has come. If you are satisfied with the progress, you can drain this bucket into a larger vat to take inside to start the syrup making process. Do not store the sap as it can spoil.

Turning Sap into Syrup

Syrup-KettleWhen you have a large quantity of sap, it’s time to cook it up to make the syrup. This is done by boiling the sap in a large pan on the stove as long as you have a vent fan and a dehumidifier on hand. When you boil sap, it can produce considerable moisture in the air. Professionals prefer to use outdoor gas ranges with large metal pans in order to avoid the moisture build up in their homes. There is also a hobby-sized evaporator available.

Boil the sap until it becomes thicker as the water boils off. You will need to continue to add sap to the pan, never letting the level get below 1-1/2 inches from the bottom of the pan.

As the sap is boiling, you need to skim off any foam that might be on the top. Using a candy thermometer, boil the sap until it is 7 degrees above the boiling temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Once you have reached this level, let the syrup completely cool. The sugar sand and other matter will settle to the bottom, allowing you to pour off the good syrup into a glass bottle. Let it cool and you are ready to serve homemade maple syrup.

If you plan to can the syrup, make sure to can the syrup at 180 degrees Fahrenheit and pour into sterilized glass containers to prevent spoilage and contamination by bacteria.

Sugar-ShackIf you feel that making your own maple syrup is a task too daunting to undertake, you can visit the Bloomfield Hills’ E. L. Johnson Nature Center this Saturday, March 15, 2014 and participate in tapping the trees, collecting the sap and visiting the sugar shack to watch the boiling process that produces pure maple syrup. Then, you can visit the log home for a taste of nature’s sweetener!

For a guided tour, meet at the Visitor Center:

  • Tours are from noon to 4:00 pm.
  • Tours are scheduled every 20 minutes and last approximately one hour.
  • Pre-registration is suggested to reserve a specific time: click here for details

E. L. Johnson Nature Center is located at 3325 Franklin Road, Bloomfield Hills, MI; phone: 248-341-6485; website: http://naturecenter.bloomfield.org/

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How do Leaves Change Colors in the Fall?

Posted in Around Your Home, Lifestyle with tags , , on October 9, 2012 by Pat Hansen

Several factors contribute to fall color, but the main agent is light, or actually the lack of it. As the autumn days grow shorter, the reduced light triggers chemical changes in deciduous leaves causing a corky wall to Fall colors - redform between the twig and the leaf stalk. As the corky cells multiply, they seal off the vessels that supply the leaf with nutrients and water, and also block the exit vessels, trapping simple sugars in the leaves. The combination of reduced light, lack of nutrients and no water, add up to the demise of the pigment chlorophyll, the “green” in leaves.

Once the green is gone, two other pigments show their bright faces. These pigments, carotene (yellow) and anthocyanin (red) exist in the leaf all summer but are masked by the chlorophyll. The browns in autumn leaves are the result of tannin, a chemical that exists in many leaves, especially oaks.

Sugar trapped in autumn leaves by the corky cells also known as the abscission layer is largely responsible for the vivid color. Some additional Fall colors - yellowanthocyanins are also manufactured by sunlight acting on the trapped sugar. This is why the foliage is so sparkling after several bright fall days and more pastel during rainy spells. In general, a dry fall produces the most vibrant color.

Weather conditions in summer and early September, largely determine how brilliant each season’s colors will be.  According to David Beachler, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Grand Rapids, a hot, dry summer inflicts stress on the trees; therefore, when it cools, the chlorophyll that breaks down in the leaves can produce a quick colorFall colors - orange change. Autumn rain is desirable, but continuous cloudy weather is not, since that would stop the production that creates the brilliant reds and golds found in oaks and maples, Michigan’s most prevalent tree species.

There are nearly 150 different species of trees in Michigan’s 18.6 million acres of forest.  Our state boasts a colorful mix of yellows, reds, golds and oranges. Some of the most beautiful colors are displayed by such hardwoods as aspen, maple, birch, sumac and oak.  When combined with a background of evergreen forest, the result is one of the best shows in the nation.

Where Have All The Cherries Gone? (and Apples … and Peaches …)

Posted in Local News with tags , on September 19, 2012 by Pat Hansen

Northern Michigan calls itself the Cherry Capital of the World and supplies most of the country’s tart cherries, but the state experienced a huge crop loss in 2012. This has been the worst year in recorded history for Michigan fruit. Statewide, more that 90 percent of the tart cherry crop was lost when freezing weather followed an unusually warm spring.

Northern Michigan is considered by many an ideal place for growing fruit. Located on the 45th parallel, halfway between the equator and the North Pole, the surrounding Great Lakes and rolling hills help create a temperate climate.

Cherry trees remain dormant throughout winter until a spring warming wakes them up. That happened much earlier this year. Temperatures in March shattered records across the country, reaching the mid-80’s in Michigan that month – that’s nearly 14 degrees Fahrenheit above the state average. That pushed the trees to a development stage about 5.5 weeks ahead of normal. When temperatures dropped again, the trees’ early buds were vulnerable.  From late March through May, there were 15 to 20 nights in which temperatures fell below freezing. The cold snaps killed not only cherries, but also juice grapes, peaches and apples. Losses across the state are estimated at $210 million.

Each fall, thousands of people visit the local cider mills and orchards to drink cider, eat freshly baked donuts and pick apples. But this year, there is one thing missing: crops. Michigan will only produce about 3 million bushels of apples this year, compared to the 20 to 23 million produced during a normal season, according to the Michigan Apple Committee.

To survive the season, local orchards are cutting hours, planting different crops, and ordering apples from out-of-state farms for making cider. Pumpkins are being sold in place of apples. Many orchards have “Petting Zoos” with lambs, goats and other small animals to the delight of many children. Donuts and hot chocolate replace the cider and donuts.

Many of the growers have been in the business for several generations. Despite their historic losses, there is a common sentiment among the growers; this year’s crop devastation was out of their hands and the growing conditions eventually will improve. These orchards and farms did not become a fourth or fifth generation by not being able to survive a few bad years here in Michigan. They have learned to make the best of the situation.

E.L. Johnson Nature Center in Bloomfield Twp

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on May 23, 2012 by Pat Hansen

History

Shortly after World War II, the Olsen family purchased 16 acres along Franklin Rd and built the home that now serves as the caretaker residence at the Nature Center. They dredged the low, swampy area east of their home which eventually filled with natural underground spring water and formed the pond that visitors enjoy today. During the years the Olsen’s lived in the home, they created the natural sanctuary by planting thousands of trees, shrubs and wildflowers. They planted native species and experimented with species from other areas of the country as well. They introduced fish into the pond, and kept detailed records of the wildlife they observed on the property. The Olsen’s sold their beautiful property to the Bloomfield Hills School District in 1968.

Bloomfield Hills School District

The thriving and growing school district purchased additional acreage adjacent to the Olsen property, creating a thirty nine acre site to be used as a nature center to enhance the teaching of science. When Telegraph Road was widened in 1977, a multitude of trees were planted to somewhat screen the Nature Center from the busy road. When the district decided that a good way to enhance Michigan studies for students would be to purchase, relocate, and restore a log cabin of the early nineteenth century era, the availability of land at the Nature Center made it a logical destination site. The search for an existing cabin of that time period was to no avail, so the 1985 recreation millage funds were used to build a facsimile. It was completed in 1987 and was furnished to approximately represent the late 1800’s time period. Today, students and adult visitors, delight in the opportunity to enter the cabin and instantly step more than a hundred years backward in time. Today, the Bloomfield Hills School District integrates the Nature Center as part of the curriculum for grades 1 through 8.

In 2000, an additional .6 acres of land were donated to the Nature Center and subsequently generous grants from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the United States EPA, enabled the demolition of the two, thirty-year old “temporary”, classroom buildings, and the construction of a 5,000 square foot permanent structure designed along “Green” principles to serve as a Visitor Center as well as classroom space. The dedication of the building took place in September, 2006, and the Nature Center continues to serve students, community members and visitors throughout Oakland County, and beyond. The nature center was named the E.L. Johnson Nature Center in honor of the long time, dedicated school district superintendent, E. L. Johnson.

Trail Information

The Nature Center has nearly two miles of mulched trails. The distance around the perimeter trails is 9 tenths of a mile.

  • Pets – Pets are not allowed at the Nature Center due to the caged wildlife and other animals that roam freely on the property.
  • Bicycles – Not allowed on the trails.
  • Fees – There is no trail fee, however, donations are appreciated.
  • Cross Country Skiing Is allowed on all trails.
  • Snowshoeing Is allowed on all trails.
  • Jogging – Is allowed on the trails.
  • Restrooms – Available at Visitor Center
  • Handicapped Access and Strollers – There are no paved trails; however, most of the trails are hard-packed so wheel chairs and strollers can operate when conditions are dry.
  • Benches and Picnic Tables– There are a few scattered throughout the site.

Other Activities Offered at the Nature Center

  • Day Camps throughout the summer months. Registration is required.
  • Fishing on selected weekend dates from June through Aug.; catch and release only; must be accompanied by a parent. Registration required.
  • Fall Family Day featuring canoeing, fishing, crafts.
  • Bird Banding in May; registration required.
  • Maple Syrup tapping and making on selected weekend in March.

You may register online at www.BloomfieldRec.org for the Nature Center Camps or Call 248-433-0885.

The E. L. Johnson Nature Center is located at: 3325 Franklin Road, Bloomfield Hills, MI.  Phone: 248-341-6485

The Information Center Exhibit Room is open on weekends only: Sat. 11-2 and Sun. 12-3

The trails are open week days from 8 am-7 pm; Sat. & Sun. 9 am-4 pm.

The Nature Center offers a peaceful respite from hectic schedules. You can walk the trails or just sit on the dock and watch the fish, frogs and turtles swim by.

Beware of Poison Ivy … a Gardener’s Foe

Posted in Around Your Home, Lifestyle with tags , , , on May 18, 2012 by Pat Hansen

What Is Poison Ivy?  It is a native plant that is food to many birds and many animals. (This is mentioned in case you were wondering why it exists and what good it does.) It can take many forms; most people think of it as a vine rambling up trees. It can also be a ground cover vine weaving its way through grass, weeds and planting beds. It is a three- leaf, waxy green plant that is easily identified. It is also a perennial which means it resurfaces year after year. If you have the misfortune of coming in contact with it, it may leave you with an itchy rash you won’t forget.

You get the rash from poison ivy by coming in contact with urushiol. Urushiol is the oil that flows within the leaves, stems and roots of the plant and on the skin of its berries. This oil has a long life. If you walk through a patch of poison ivy, and put your work boots away for the winter, then put them back on in the spring, the oil that is clinging to your boots can still infect you. It can last for many years, leaving its residue on tool handles, clothing, shoes or boots.

Urushiol Oil Is Potent.

  • Only 1 nanogram (billionth of a gram) is needed to cause a rash
  • 1 to 5 years is normal for urushiol oil to stay active on any surface including dead plants
  • Derived from urushi, Japanese name for lacquer

What Should You Do If Are Exposed To Urushiol?

Once you realize that you have been exposed to poison ivy and urushiol, wash the affected skin with soap and water.  Fels Naptha brown soap is good if you have it on hand. There is a product on the market called Tecnu, which is specifically for poison ivy and it is applied directly to dry skin and rubbed in for two minutes before it is washed off with water. If the rash or blisters appear, Band-Aid Anti-Inch Gel has been very effective for some victims of poison ivy. Since not everyone reacts the same to poison ivy, there is no sure remedy that will help everyone. A pharmacist would certainly give a recommendation. If the symptoms are extremely severe, you should seek a physician’s advice.

What Should You Do to Get Rid Of Poison Ivy?

Organic herbicides such as acid based Burnout or Weed Pharm work well on the leaves of young plants, but they are not systemic and will not kill the roots. If you choose to use organic herbicide, you can try pouring boiling water on the roots. Never burn poison ivy or use a flame weeder as you can get the rash in your lungs from the smoke.

If you plan to cut a vine from a tree or pull out vines from the ground, you should protect yourself by wearing a long sleeve shirt, long pants, tall rubber boots, surgical gloves on your hands and thick rubber gloves over them. Have heavy-duty plastic garbage bags at the ready and place the vines in the bags. It is a good idea to wash the thick rubber gloves while they are still on your hands with Tecnu as described above, following with rubbing alcohol. Remove the thick rubber gloves and keep the surgical gloves on and wipe down the rubber boots, shears and shovel handle with rubbing alcohol using rags or paper towels that will be discarded. Remove the boots and surgical gloves and wash your hands thoroughly with Tecnu, followed by rubbing alcohol. Wash clothes separately from other laundry. Remember … urushiol is tricky stuff; it is better to be safe than sorry.

Creating Flower Beds That Bloom All Summer

Posted in Around Your Home, Lifestyle with tags , , on May 9, 2012 by Pat Hansen

The most crucial step to designing your landscape to bloom all summer is to create a plan before you buy any plants or dig a single hole. Consider sun exposure, soil quality, drainage, and available space. With careful planning and plant selection, gardeners can design their landscape to burst with color from early summer through early fall.

It is useful to photograph your summer landscape at the end of summer. This is helpful in deciding what you need to change or add. At the onset of the next growing season, visit your local nurseries or greenhouse to check the blooming periods, sun, shade or partial shade requirements of all the new plants you wish to purchase. All of the plants are labeled with this information as well as the ultimate size or height of the plant. This is very helpful in planning an interesting and well thought out landscape design ensuring continuous blossoms all season long.

Depending on the size of the garden, a selection of both perennials and annuals creates a very colorful and continually blooming garden all summer long.

Three great perennial choices to start with that bloom all summer long are:

  • Moonbeam coreopsis comes in yellow, pink and red.
  • Russian sage is lavender blue and can grow to four feet in height, but can be pruned to three feet.
  • Purple cornflower is a tall daisy-like flower in a pinkish-purple color.

There are many more perennials that add color and interest to the landscape and they include but are not limited to:

  • Daylillies
  • Black-eyed Susans
  • Phlox
  • Catmint
  • Asters
  • Bellflowers
  • Dianthus
  • Astilbe
  • Gaillardia

When selecting perennials, consider the flower color, height and blooming time of your expectations. Not all perennials have the same blooming life.

Don’t forget the annuals as they usually bloom all summer long.

  • Petunias continue to be one of most popular summer annuals and need full sun and well-drained soil. They come in various colors.
  • Impatiens bloom well in partial shade and are available in pink, red, white, salmon and occasionally in blue.
  • Marigolds are one of the easiest annuals to grow. They add a touch of orange or yellow to the landscape.
  • Zinnias come in a variety of colors.
  • Snapdragons are available in yellow, orange, pink and even red, and flower all summer and into the fall. They sometimes re-seed.
  • Ageratum, available in a delicate purple is an excellent low-growing border plant.
  • Geraniums are a popular container annual and coupled with white petunias and vinca vine make an excellent patio or window box display.

After you have chosen and planted your favorite flowers, you still have some work to do.

  • Fertilizing: Most experts say you should do this every six to eight weeks.
  • Watering: Strange as this may sound, daily watering isn’t a good idea. Experts prefer you water less frequently. They recommend that you water more heavily. Deeper watering less often helps the root system to grow stronger.
  • Mulching: This should be done right after planting full sun flowers. Mulching helps keep the moisture within your soil, helps keep weeds from growing and keeps the soil cooler.
  • Weeding: This may not be a fun activity. Weeds are unsightly and can choke the flowers.
  • Grooming: Some flowers require no grooming; others need deadheading, trimming and pinching. Follow the instructions that come with the flower.

Now that you have the basics covered, take the time to enjoy and smell your flowers.

March is the Time for Making Maple Syrup

Posted in Dining with Pat, Lifestyle with tags , , , on March 7, 2012 by Pat Hansen

Making maple syrup is a traditional right of spring, signaling the end of winter. Several species of maple trees grow in Michigan.  Although all produce sap suitable for the production of maple syrup; two species, sugar maple and black maple are the source of sap for most commercial maple syrup production.  Sap suitable for conversion into syrup may also be obtained from red and silver maples, although such sap usually has a lower sugar content.

Equipment Necessary

Maple syrup can be produced with a minimum of equipment, but a few standard items increase the efficiency of the operation and the quality of the product:

  1. A drill with a 7/16 or 1/2 inch bit for drilling tap-holes in trees.
  2. A metal or plastic collection spout for each tap-hole.
  3. A collection container (bucket or plastic bag) or tubing line for each tap-hole.
  4. A large pan and a heat source for boiling down the sap.  The size needed will depend on how much sap you intend to handle.
  5. A large-scale thermometer, calibrated at least 15 degrees above the boiling point of water.
  6. Wool, Orlon or other filters for filtering finished syrup while hot.
  7. Storage containers for the finished syrup.

Tapping the Tree

To obtain the earliest runs of sap, tapping should be completed by the first week in March in Michigan. Minimal trunk diameter for trees suitable for tapping is 10 inches at 4 feet above the ground.

To tap a tree, select a spot on the trunk of the tree 2 to 4 feet above the ground in an area that appears to contain sound wood.  At this point, drill a hole approximately 2 to 2.5 inches deep into the wood. Then insert a collection spout and tap lightly into the tree and attach a bucket or plastic bag or a tubing line to the spout.  Open buckets used for sap collection should be covered to keep out rainwater, debris, insects and other foreign materials.

Collecting the Sap

Sap flow in maple trees will not occur every day throughout the tapping season.  It occurs when a rapid warming trend in early morning follows a cool (below freezing) night.

To collect the sap from the tree, simply hang a bucket on the tap and watch the first few drips fall into the bucket.  This should happen quickly, though there will be little drips that won’t amount to much at first.  Place a lid over the bucket and let the sap continue to drip.

After a day or two, you can check to see just how far your sap collection has come. If you are satisfied with the progress, you can drain this bucket into a larger vat to take inside to start the syrup making process.  Do not store the sap as it can spoil.

Turning Sap into Syrup

When you have a large quantity of sap, it’s time to cook it up to make the syrup. This is done by boiling the sap in a large pan on the stove as long as you have a vent fan and a dehumidifier on hand. When you boil sap, it can produce considerable moisture in the air. Professionals prefer to use outdoor gas ranges with large metal pans in order to avoid the moisture build up in their homes. There is also a hobby-sized evaporator available.

Boil the sap until it becomes thicker as the water boils off. You will need to continue to add sap to the pan, never letting the level get below 1-1/2 inches from the bottom of the pan.

As the sap is boiling, you need to skim off any foam that might be on the top. Using a candy thermometer, boil the sap until it is 7 degrees above the boiling temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Once you have reached this level, let the syrup completely cool. The sugar sand and other matter will settle to the bottom, allowing you to pour off the good syrup into a glass bottle.  Let it cool and you are ready to serve homemade maple syrup.

If you plan to can the syrup, make sure to can the syrup at 180 degrees Fahrenheit and pour into sterilized glass containers to prevent spoilage and contamination by bacteria.

If you feel that making your own maple syrup is a task too daunting to undertake, you can visit the Bloomfield Hills, E. L. Johnson Nature Center on March 17, 2012 and participate in tapping the trees, collecting the sap and visiting the sugar shack to watch the boiling process that produces pure maple syrup. Then, you can visit the log home for a taste of nature’s sweetener!

E. L. Johnson Nature Center is located at: 3325 Franklin Rd, Bloomfield Hills, MI Phone: (248) 341-6485.  Website: http://naturecenter.bloomfield.org/

Meet at the Visitor Center for a guided tour.  Tours are conducted on March 17, 2012 and are scheduled every 20 minutes and last approximately one hour. Pre-registration is suggested to reserve a specific time. Tours start at Noon and run to 4:00 pm.

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